Creating a Better Brainstorming Culture in your Startup

Brainstorming, or the sharing of ideas in search of a new and innovative solution to a problem, is integrals for any growing business. It’s also an important habit to form as a company.

Employees who feel free to contribute ideas are employees who feel that their work is important. They can see the bigger picture, and they’re likely to stick around. But unless your company is brainstorming the right way, you won’t be getting the results you are looking for.

Brainstorming session of a startup

Brainstorming is important, but not always effective

“Brainstorming”, the concept, has been around since the 30’s. But it was in a 1953 book called Applied Imagination that brainstorming was finally laid out as a workable theory. Many of the ideas introduced here have been adapted for today’s businesses.

Brainstorming sessions aren’t always effective, though.

Yale started studying brainstorming decades ago. In an initial analysis, they found that group thinking was uniformly inferior to the work and thoughts that could be cooked up by an individual. These findings didn’t change as time went on. Later generations of individuals still had better ideas than when they worked in groups, and nobody was quite sure why.

What researchers found is that people tended to “coast” in group settings, relying on the efforts of others rather than applying it themselves. This tended to weigh down the best performers as well, who tended to offer fewer ideas if they realized they had been offering more than their team members. Therefore, naturally prolific thinkers succumbed to self-censorship. Anxiety was also found to play a role, as self-conscious individuals didn’t have the confidence to present even their best ideas in a setting like this.

The issue was further complicated if sessions like these included a so-called “expert”. These individuals had a uniformly intimidating effect on their teammates, and made them clam up even more. Control groups who were not told anything about the relative experience of individual team members performed the best in these Yale studies.

Production Blocking” had further adverse effects on people working in groups. Because two people could reasonably explain themselves at once, people had to wait for their turn, even if they had a great idea. Many people forgot their ideas, or downgraded them over time, while listening to and implementing other people’s concepts. Groups also became fixated on certain kinds of solutions. Gradually, new ideas grew to resemble one another more and more, even while other valid solutions of a different kind were still mentally accessible, at least in theory.

Better brainstorming session
photo credit: Jeffrey Zeldman / Flickr

Better brainstorming

Fortunately, there is a better way to brainstorm.

1. Start with individual time

Brainstorming works better when people do their own work first. Bringing in a list of best ideas, prepared in advance, makes group brainstorming more effective. It also allows time for ideas to incubate subconsciously between solo and group times. By emphasizing the cognitive power of the individual, then bringing ideas to the group for discussion and debate, researchers found that the true power of the group can be achieved.

Ideas die by committee, but by letting them grow in the individual mind, the committee can be made great again.

2. Don’t eliminate criticism and debate

Contrary to the original intent of the creator of brainstorming, research has uncovered that the contrary is true. A study concluded that effective debates stimulate creativity. Looking into the pros and cons of an issue, brainstorming groups that are allowed to debate are led to opportunities for solving problems better by combining and improving parts that can impact the direction of the issue at hand.

3. Gain knowledge on the actual issues and current trends

The latest best practices and trends are invaluable to the brainstorming sessions. The latest developments and updates can add value to the ideas that are being discussed; something worth debating over that can change the course of idea development.


The entrepreneurial path is a dark and murky road. There are plenty of uncertainties and road blocks, which mean that there are critical decisions to make. Tapping into your team members’ insight via brainstorming sessions can uncover the best solutions for moving forward.

As the Founder/CEO, your job is to facilitate and direct the sessions to the direction that is the best for your startup, as brainstorming sessions can be crucial to your startup’s success.